City Council | Community Advocates Push for Racial Bias Assessment

Public speakers demanded that the South Pasadena Police Department performance assessment scope be expanded "to determine the extent that racial bias exists among individual officers and across the department".

PHOTO: Eric Fabbro | SouthPasadenan.com News | City Manager Arminé Chaparyan

Public speakers on Wednesday demanded the city include racial bias as part of an assessment City Manager Arminé Chaparyan intends to commission on the city’s police department. The demand was echoed in written statements, including a one filed on behalf of three local social justice groups and signed by 69 people.

News of the assessment was made public two days earlier when Chaparyan made an unscheduled appearance at the city’s Public Safety Commission to announce the effort. Chaparyan, three months into her tour as the new city manager, told commissioners she and Police Chief Brian Solinsky were seeking input on the scope of an assessment of the department’s organizational structure, workload, overall efficiency and use of technology.

“This is something many cities have taken on and, organizationally, it could help me have a better understanding of operations,” she said. Chaparyan intends to rely on resources offered by the International City Managers Association to roll out a request for qualifications by year’s end and select a contractor who would undertake the work after the start of the year.

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PHOTO: Eric Fabbro | SouthPasadenan.com News | City Council meets at City Hall

The City Manager said since coming on board, she’s been working with all the city department heads on assessments to better understand operations. “I’ve done similar assessments for some departments and [I] am looking at” a few others. It was unclear if the other assessments are as formal as the one proposed for the police department, but she said the SPPD assessment would be in addition to the “the workload we already have.”

One of the goals would be to work with the Public Safety Commission to refine the scope of and parameters of the assessment, which she said will be “very instrumental as organization looks to continue enhancing our operations, especially in our police department.”

Resident Victoria Patterson, one of several speakers who expressed similar views on the topic, told the Council the assessment was being undertaken “without community input.” She said it originated as a “community idea to bring transparency” to the police department, which she said she has learned from personal experience has “no interest in protecting and serving equally.”

“Despite acknowledging privately to community members that SPPD has race issues, it is trying to sidestep it” by failing to include racial bias in the assessment, Patterson said. “The city’s continued unwillingness to even acknowledge the public support for racial bias accountability within the police department, much less to do anything about, is discouraging and upsetting.”

“A racial bias audit is timely, as many other cities are proactively working to root out extremists on their police forces in the aftermath of the January 6 insurrection,” according to the letter signed by 69 supporters of South Pasadena’s Anti-Racism Committee, Black Lives Matter and Care First South Pasadena.

“Membership in extremist organizations among law enforcement officers undermines their ability to police without prejudice.” The groups asked the city to examine the SPPD “to determine the operational efficiencies and effectiveness of the department” and “to determine the extent that racial bias exists among individual officers and across the department, and whether SPPD has systems in place to identify and root them out on a continuing basis.”

Council Member Jon Primuth, the council’s liaison to the Public Safety Commission, said the city manager’s request for the SPPD assessment would come before the Council in “the near future.” He did not take a position on a racial bias component but said “it is critical to our community that they have continuing trust and confidence in our police department, and this assessment will help us maintain that confidence as we assess law enforcement polices, operations and resources.”

 

 

Ben Tansey is a journalist and author. He grew up in the South Bay and is a graduate of Evergreen State College. He worked in Washington State as a reporter in a rural timber community and for many years as an editor for a Western electric energy policy publication based in Seattle. He and his wife Karin, an arts administrator from El Sereno, live in South Pasadena.